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Source: PIK Potsdam






Optimism versus realism
Climate models point to irreversible climate change. Why are we doing so little about it?



Michael Düren, Center for International Development and Environmental Research (ZEU) at Justus Liebig University Giessen

When someone asks me how I see the future, the following scenario seems almost inevitable to me: In the coming years, we will face a global food crisis caused by global warming, with droughts, heat waves and heavy rains. Malnutrition and hunger will lead to migration, pandemics and wars affecting people on every continent. According to the scientific assessment by the IPCC, irreversible climate change, which builds up through cascades of tipping points, can only be prevented if CO2 emissions, compared to today, are halved by about 2030 and reduced to the minimum necessary by 2050. I would be happy if someone could dissuade me from this apocalyptic worldview with scientific arguments. But I don't know any climate scientist who is optimistic about the future.

As a scientist, it's easy to do the math and see that neither modern thorium reactors like those in China nor fusion reactors can make a significant contribution in the next two decades. The 40 gigatons of CO2 that are released into the atmosphere each year as exhaust gases cannot be significantly reduced with CO2 sequestration. The development of solar and wind power plants - as important as it is - will not be sufficient to halve global CO2 emissions in just seven years due to a lack of production capacity.

One solution would be the following optimal, but probably hypothetical, scenario: Suppose a large majority of nations recognized the threat to human civilization and accepted that only immediate concerted action by all nations could end a climate apocalypse. Then a UN General Assembly could declare a planetary climate emergency and adopt the following immediate measures:

  • Rich, highly developed states must disproportionately reduce CO2 emissions, since the potential for savings is too low in poor, developing countries. States that do not reduce fossil fuel consumption enough will receive drastic sanctions.
  • Travel by air and in private vehicles with internal combustion engines will only be tolerated in emergencies. Video conferencing, local coworking spaces, and local businesses reduce professional travel and commuting. Allowed modes of transportation are light electric vehicles and public transportation. Interregional Transportation is carried out energy efficiently via rail.
  • Thermal insulation of homes reduces heating energy; electric heat pumps provide the remaining heat, fed by regional "cold heating grids." In the chemical industry, hydrogen from solar power plants in desert regions replaces coal as a reducing agent. Renewable building materials such as wood, clay and modern fibre composites are replacing concrete in residential construction.
  • Food is grown as regionally as possible, and meat production is greatly reduced. Consumer goods come from local factories to reduce transportation distances.

Our brains are not trained for apocalyptic climate change.

But why, despite decades of warnings, have global annual CO2 emissions not been reduced so far? For this paradox, the analogy to Deep-Learning algorithms provides an explanation: the human brain dates back to prehistoric times – instinctive processes of our neuronal networks in the brain displace deliberative logical thought processes in many situations. In critical situations, they ensure our survival through archaic, instinctive decision-making patterns. Unfortunately, our instinctive gut feeling does not work in the case of apocalyptic climate change because, as a singular event, it was not part of human evolution and therefore could not be mentally trained.

So, when we're having a beer in the pub or buying a car, we can assume - loosely based on the evolutionary researcher “Stephen Jay Gould"1 - that a little homunculus in our head is calling out to us: "The climate catastrophe is not coming. I want to keep my car and my gas heating. We won't be patronized after all!" Since I'm a Rhinelander, he roars dangerously misleadingly afterward, "Et hätt noch emmer joot jejange." (It still went well after all).

1) Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York 2011, ISBN 978-0-374-27563-1. German Edition: Schnelles Denken, langsames Denken. Siedler, München 2012, ISBN 978-3-88680-886-1.

Published in German in Physik Journal 22 (2023) No. 8/9 Wiley-VCH

Prof. Dr. Michael Düren, University of Giessen, was awarded the Robert Wichard Pohl Prize of the German Physics Society, among others, for his competent promotion of a global energy transition.

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Sketchnote on stakeholder interests from a stakeholder event in 2020
(© Nadine Roßa)

Energy Efficiency, Market Competition, and Quality Certification: Lessons from Central Asia


SUSKULT – Development of a Sustainable Cultivation System for Food in Resilient Metropolitan Regions, Subproject F (2019-2024)


Vladimir Otrachshenko, PhD, presents learnings about energy efficiency in firms from Central Asia, which can help dealing with the current and future energy crisis.

The energy sector in Central Asia heavily relies on coal and gas, with Kazakhstan being the biggest energy exporter in the region. Facing a high level of pollution and energy black outs, countries in this region need to adapt for energy efficiency policies. Dr. Otrachshenko discusses what would be a potential solution to energy efficacy at the firm level in manufacturing. 

The determinants of energy efficiency in firms are driven by a series of complex and multifaceted factors. These can be firm-specific attributes as well as a firm’s external environment. A weak institutional environment may exacerbate barriers to energy efficiency, because interested firms are sent to search of ways in which to signal their commitment to improving their energy usage. Paramount among these mechanisms is internationally recognized quality certification, which can both reward a firm for prior improvements and alert consumers about the quality of a firm’s products.

This study examines the effect of quality certification on energy efficiency in a particular low institutional quality environment, the four transition countries of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The authors use firm-level data collected jointly by the European Bank of Construction and Development, the European Investment Bank and the World Bank (EBRD-EIB-WB Enterprise Survey 2019).

The authors apply a cost function model augmented with market structure variables. They analyse a set of energy indicators such as

  • if the firm has adopted energy efficiency measures,
  • if the firm monitors it´s energy use,
  • if the firm has targets with regard to the used quantity and/or expenditure energy use approaches for planning,
  • energy intensity.

The authors find that firms with quality certifications are indeed more efficient in their use of energy. Interestingly, they also find that competition from the informal sector is also incredibly important to improved energy efficiency.



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In March 2022, ZEU member Dr. Sandra Schwindenhammer was successful with a follow-up grant from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for subproject F of the collaborative research project SUSKULT at the Faculty 03 - Social Sciences and Cultural Studies at Justus Liebig University Giessen.

The SUSKULT project involves 15 partners from industry, civil society and scientific institutions and is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety, and Energy Technologies. The overarching goal of the SUSKULT vision is to develop a soilless, sustainable and urban food production system that draws the essential resources water, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, CO₂ and heat from a wastewater treatment plant of the future (NEWtrient®-Center). The vison is demonstrated in the Ruhr Metropolitan Region at the demonstration plant “Emscher-mündung”. Subproject F explores the socio-political enabling conditions for the SUSKULT vision. It assesses challenges for dealing with the new agricultural system at different political levels, societal risk perceptions and stakeholder demands for high quality, regional and sustainable agricultural products, (digital) approaches to increase transparency in the food supply chain, and market conditions and sales opportunities for SUSKULT products. Recent findings from transdisciplinary and participatory research (stakeholder dialogues, stakeholder (online) surveys, focus group workshops) unveil the general interest of market actors and stakeholders in the SUSKULT vision (see figure above).

Specific information demands relate to the food production process, the safety of food products, risk governance approaches, and sustainability benefits compared to conventional agricultural production. Information demands stand out regarding human health. Sandra explains “in Germany, critical substances have been detected in state-of-the-art treated wastewater, such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, or biocides. Ongoing quality assessment of the elimination of organic and inorganic trace compounds in SUSKULT reveals that the nutrient solution already meets the legal requirements of the fertilizer ordinance regarding heavy metals and that the nutrient recovery technology is able to reduce the concentration of other relevant trace compounds by 90%. No residual substances have been detected in the plant samples. However, our own research at JLU also points to the relevance of providing transparency and the impact of stakeholder demands and risk perceptions for the realization of the SUSKULT vision”.


Recent Publications


Keuter, Volkmar/Deck, Sebastian/Giesenkamp, Heidi/Gonglach, Denise/Katayama, Victor T./Liesegang, Sica/Petersen, Finn/Schwindenhammer, Sandra/Steinmetz, Heidrun/Ulbrich, Andreas 2021: Significance and Vision of Nutrient Recovery for Sustainable City Food Systems in Germany by 2050, in: Sustainability, 13: 19, 10772.

Schwindenhammer, Sandra/Gonglach, Denise 2021: SDG Implementation through Technology? Governing Food-Water-Technology Nexus Challenges in Urban Agriculture, in: Politics and Governance, 9: 1, 176–186.

Schwindenhammer, Sandra 2021: Standards als Ergebnis, Ursache oder Instrument von Ernährungskommunikation? Politikwissenschaftliche Reflexion eines vielschichtigen Wechselverhältnisses, in: Godemann, Jasmin/Bartelmeß, Tina (Hrsg.): Ernährungskommunikation. Interdisziplinäre Perspektiven – Theorien – Methoden, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 225-238. 


Project Partners



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Characterization of Mediterranean Overflow Water (in yellow) in the Atlantic Ocean

(C) Lorine Behr


An accurate representation of the Atlantic-Mediterranean exchange in climate models is important for a reliable simulation of North Atlantic ocean circulation and the present and future climate in Europe.


ZEU affiliate explores questions concerning uncertainty, global risks and cosmopolitanization in an era of global crises


 ZEU member Lorine Behr lead-authored an evaluation of the performance of ten global climate models in representing Mediterranean Overflow Water over the recent period. Based on analyses and observations, Lorine and her co-authors conducted a model ranking to identify the best performing models as well as noting those that have severe limitations.


Mediterranean Overflow Water has a small but noticeable effect on the circulation and climate of the North Atlantic. Despite its location in temperate latitudes, the Mediterranean is the only sea outside the polar regions where open-ocean deep convection occurs down to the ocean bottom. The resulting Mediterranean Overflow Water and especially its salinity, plays a key role in the stability of the convective cells in the Eastern North Atlantic and hence the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Since her Bachelor studies in Gießen, Lorine has been conducting research on the representation of Mediterranean Overflow Water in climate models which was further deepened during her stay at Göteborgs universitet. She points out that “The water mass is a key climate parameter and needs to be accurately simulated in climate models to learn more about its impact on the North Atlantic ocean circulation and European climate”

The study shows that the majority of models represent the equilibrium depth of the overflow, the mean exchange and the net flow between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic reasonably well. In addition, the spatial variability and the seasonal cycle of the Mediterranean outflow is accurately simulated by most models. However, the majority experience strong temperature and salinity biases, and simulate temporal variability not correctly.

Lorine notes that “A better representation of the properties in coarse-resolution models is likely to require common entrainment and overflow parameterizations, higher horizontal resolution and a more accurate bathymetry of the Strait of Gibraltar”. “Future studies are needed before the wider impacts of Mediterranean Overflow Water on the North Atlantic climate system can be reliably determined” she concludes.




Behr, L., N. Luther, S. A. Josey, J. Luterbacher, S. Wagner, and E. Xoplaki, 2022: On the representation of Mediterranean Overflow Waters in Global Climate Models. Journal of Physical Oceanography,


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The severe global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dangerous escalation of the Ukraine war have shown that, despite various portents, neither politicians nor scientists realised them in time to prevent their disastrous consequences. ZEU member Prof. Dr. Andreas Klinke explores issues and questions relating to a world of uncertainty as well as the governance mechanisms of global risks and the cosmopolitanization of oceans in his research conducted at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.


The journey of humankind has always been an odyssey of uncertainty and perils, marked by our efforts to understand and master uncertainty. Philosophy and social sciences must account for uncertainty in human existence, human relations, social being and the world to satisfy the human quest for certainty about uncertainty. Since the Enlightenment, humankind has continued to hold to the hypothesis that progress and rationality are capable of taming and domesticating uncertainty. However, scientific revolutions of relativity and quantum theory, the loss of faith in lasting political truths and ideas of liberal democracy have led to the loss of old certainties. In their wake, new uncertainties in the late 20th and early 21st centuries have been birthed. There is an increase in uneasiness, anxiety, insecurity, disorder, and confusion which are the primary symptoms of the advent of an uncertain age shaping a world in uncertainty. The research attempts to develop a theory of uncertainty claiming genuine accounts of uncertainty. It differentiates between the ontological, epistemological, communicative-linguistic and teleological.

In his research on postnormal risk governance, Andreas synthesises the insights and learning effects from conceptual and empirical analyses of risk policies and regulations over the last two decades. In this light, together with Ortwin Renn, he argues for a more integrative approach on governing risks which has moved away from distinct conceptions of risk assessment, risk mana-gement and risk communication and towards the processes and institutions that guide, restrain and integrate collective activities of handling risk. Main characteristics are a new concept of differentiated responsibility and deliberation in which expertise, experience and tacit knowledge are integrated forming the core of legitimate political risk decision-making.
Andreas’ research on methodological cosmopolitanism refers to global ocean governance and has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada since 2020. Oceans are vitally important for human existence and civilization. The project opens up a global perspective to capture the forces and factors transcending the borders and entities of persisting national spaces and jurisdictions. The project assumes that cosmopolitan governance addresses the interests of human individuals directly as world citizens and not indirectly as state citizens. To this end, the project analyzes transnational institutions in terms of cosmopolitan types and patterns, it explores transnational vs. global public spheres of communication, and in this way advances theory development.


Latest publications:

  • Klinke, A. and O. Renn. 2021. The Coming of Age of Risk Governance. Risk Analysis 41 (3), 544–557. 
  • Klinke, A. 2021. New Enlightenment towards Methodological Cosmopolitanism and Cosmopolitan Democracy. In Peter A. Wilderer, Martin Grambow, Michael Molls, and Konrad Oexle, eds. Strategies for Sustainability of the Earth System. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 345–372.


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Science, countries and cultures: shaping safe communication spaces in colloquien


 Farmer Behaviour as Reasoned Action: A Critical Review of Research with the Theory of Planned Behaviour

How the paper was started and developed over time.



ZEU senior scientist, Dr. Stephanie Domptail, highlighted in this week’s Colloquium the importance of jointly managing power, cultural traits and communication styles in intercultural workspaces.


Stéphanie is currently building up a working group on human-nature interactions in agricultural socio-ecological systems. Values, worldviews and system thinking are central in her approaches. Aside from research, she has coordinated the International PhD Program in Agricultural Economics, Bioeconomy and food systems (IPPAE) from 2016 to 2020, and welcoming work-experienced scholars from lower income countries as PhD candidates. Through her involvement in the program, she developed a sheer interest in multiple perspectives and in the concept of decolonization, a topic she is currently developing within the IPPAE program. Her presentation in the Colloquium of this week, reported on one project she carried out as an IPPAE coordinator and which can be understood as an early attempt of reflecting dominant worldviews and customs, namely the crafting of a feedback culture during the doctoral seminars of the IPPAE program. Initially, the seminar exposed presenters to frontal negative critics and lead them to defend themselves. “This model was frustrating and we had doubts about the learning process it could foster among participants” observeso Stéphanie. 

In order to tackle this problem, she adopted a cultural/institutional perspective and attempted to operate changes notably by working on how the seminar group could provide better feedback. “My assumption was that international and interdisciplinary scientific seminars are characterized by the culture of the scientific discipline of participants, the country culture and related communication style of the participants, and by the culture of the organization in which the seminar takes place” proposes Stéphanie. The institutions, that is, the set of (often unspoken) rules governing the seminars translate the values of the culture of the organization and probably of the dominant discipline into action. So as elements of solution, on the one hand she reflected upon the values to be defended in the seminar. On the other hand, she changed some rules for the unfolding of the seminar, which she hoped would contribute to enact these values. “Within these elements of solutions we included the use of cards for written feedback, the use of the pearl/puzzle/proposal model and the redistribution of power in the room thanks to the creation of two new roles: the moderation and note-taker roles” states Stéphanie. The maintenance of this feedback culture required constant input, especially in the face of fair turn-over among participants. Stéphanie concludes that “the seminar became an interesting and exchange-rich encounter, where participants learned about their own topic but also exercised peer-support, and which participants attended with pleasure”.


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In 2019 Peter Schmidt received an email from Joao Borges, a researcher at the Federal University of Grande Dourados in Brazil, whom I did not know personally. Jaap Sok, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, was copied to the email.  He cites from the beginning of Joao’s message:

“Recently we spoke via Research Gate (this was our initial contact) about applications of reasoned action theories in the agricultural domain. You sent me a chapter that will be published next year (coauthored by Icek Ajzen and PS). I read it and I think we might have common research interests… During our Ph.D.’s at Wageningen University we applied reasoned action theories of Ajzen and Fishbein… They have not been applied as it should. Therefore we decided to conduct a review of papers in the agricultural domain…”

Joao and Jaap had written a review and asked me to read and comment on it and to consider whether I could make a contribution. After reading the paper I found it both very interesting and representing added value to the reasoned action literature in general and to research in the agricultural domain. I concluded that I could indeed make contributions both from a methodological perspective in terms of structural equation modeling and in terms of applying the theory of planned behavior given my past experience employing this theory in several research projects. I also thought that it would be ideal if we could get Icek Ajzen, the founder of the theory, to join the team as a coauthor. I have had a very fruitful cooperation with him since 1992 leading to 10 joint publications applying the theory in various behavioral domains.  Icek agreed right away and the cooperation commenced among two agricultural economists oriented toward behavioral economics, one social psychologist, and one social researcher with a specialization in structural equation modelling.  Jaap wrote that he and Joao were very excited that Icek and I agreed to join the team and expected and hoped that our contributions would be more than “pro forma” (seniority dividend) and would result in an improved paper. It turned out to be a very fruitful exchange. After Icek and I received the first draft of the paper we revised it and made proposals for changes in its structure and content and also addressed methodological issues. Our revision took about 4 weeks after which Jaap and Joao prepared the next version, which was approved by everyone. The paper was sent to the Journal of Agricultural Economics for consideration. Several months later we received extensive feedback and the chance to revise the paper and resubmit it. After considering the reviewers’ comments and suggestions, Jaap and Joao revised the paper and sent it to Icek and me for further modifications. We resubmitted the paper and after some additional minor modifications it was accepted for publication in 2021.  We were all very pleased with this success.  It confirmed the benefits of an interdisciplinary cooperation among researchers with different expertise who had never met personally as a team and who did all the cooperation via the internet.  Because the University of Wageningen has a contract with J. Wiley, the publisher of the journal, it was possible to publish the paper in open access format. As a result, every researcher worldwide can easily access it at no cost. 


Full citation:

  • Jaap Sok, Joao Rossi Borges, Peter Schmidt and Icek Ajzen:
    Farmer Behaviour as Reasoned Action: A Critical Review of Research with the Theory of Planned Behaviour
    Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 72, No. 2, 2021, 388–412 (2020)


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 Mobile pastoralism remains an important livestock production strategy in Kazakhstan


Agricultural seasons and market access impact women´s dietary diversity in Kapchorwa District, Uganda


Based on the finding that large herds are more mobile than small ones, SDGnexus Network member Dr. Sarah Robinson and her co-authors argue that Kazakhstan's farmers may not follow the intensive ranching pathways found elsewhere in the world. Larger farms face barriers to intensification, while smallholders lack access to pastures.


Sarah and her team studied beef production systems using survey and interview data in south-eastern Kazakhstan. They found that, rather than intensifying and specializing, the largest most commercial farms rely on mixed herds and are the most dependent on extensive pastures. “Winter pastures are key for cattle farming” states Sarah, “as these can reduce outlays on winter fodder”.

The authors refined this general picture by classifying farmers into groups, identifying a variety of production strategies. For example, large farms with access to cropland provide higher quality fodder and are able to fatten cattle before sale, whilst smaller farms lacking both economies of scale for livestock migration and access to cropland have very poorly productive animals. “This is likely to depress smallholder incomes and also results in high GHG emission intensity per unit of output” argues Sarah. The study finds the type of production system is related to farmers’ professional background, distance from markets and environmental conditions. “For example, proximity to markets enables some farmers to compensate for lack of access to winter pastures because they can purchase fodder” explains Sarah.

This study also makes important contributions to policy development. The authors find that pasture access mechanisms and institutions almost entirely exclude small producers due to transaction costs associated with leasehold auctions and lack of transferability of land between farmers or arrangements for collective access. Sarah also notes that “although the provision of silage or quality hays and finishing on grain all improve feed conversion efficiency and help minimize GHG emission, weak fodder markets and access to arable land limit their use”. Government policies on subsidies, cooperatives and infrastructure development may support better access to input and output markets.


This article appeared open access in Pastoralism: Research, Policy and Practice under



Full citation:

  • Sarah Robinson, Zhanyl Bozayeva, Nozilakhon Mukhamedova, Nodir Djanibekov, & Martin Petrick. (2021). Ranchers or pastoralists? Farm size, specialisation and production strategy amongst cattle farmers in south-eastern Kazakhstan. Pastoralism, 11(1), 31. 


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A team of ZEU researchers with partners from Uganda and Kenya, investigated whether households’ diets are affected by seasonality.


Small-holder farm households in developing countries mainly depend on rain-fed agriculture activities, thus seasonality affects eating habits and contributes to micronutrient deficiencies. This may be avoided by either diversifying the own farm system or by purchasing foods on the markets. This is not possible for everyone, but why?


The types of meals consumed in households in Kapchorwa District in Uganda consist mainly of starchy staples, such as plantains, roots, tubers and maize, which are complemented with pulses and/or some seasonal dark green leafy vegetables. “These diets provide insufficient amounts of micronutrients and animal source proteins” state Dr. Irmgard Jordan, lead author of the research. The transdisciplinary HealthyLAND project under the lead of Prof. Ernst-August Nuppenau conducted a study between 2016 and 2017 to determine the influence of seasonal variations on the dietary diversity of women and to identify how the households responded to seasonal changes in food production on their farm.

“We found that the dietary diversity of women in urban regions was higher than in rural areas across all seasons” adds Irmgard. Ms. Gracia Glas, a co-author of the study and ZEU member, explains that ”women in urban regions generated more income through off-farm activities, had better access to markets and consumed significantly more meat, poultry and fish, dairy products, pro-vitamin A-rich fruits and vegetables and other vegetables during the lean season, whilst rural women ate more dark green leafy vegetables”. Gracia adds that “poorer households in the rural setting were more likely to be affected by seasonally limited food availability and accessibility”. “Based on our results we recommended strengthening the linkages between market participation, agricultural activities, improved food storage and preservation techniques, and dietary intake in order to improve diets in the Kapchorwa District in Uganda” concludes Irmgard. In order to test successful ways to improve those linkages nutrition education sessions at community level were conducted and farmer field schools were established. The impact of these activities was measured in a follow-up survey. 

The study involved researchers from the disciplines of medicine, nutrition and home economics, agronomy and agriculture economics who tested effective ways to combine nutrition education with agriculture extension services. The team has been working in the framework of food systems research aiming at providing more insights into solutions to combat all forms of malnutrition in a sustainable way in three countries, Malawi, Kenya and Uganda. “This requires an intensive dialogue across disciplines and sometimes a paradigm change across all stakeholders, understanding that maize is not the only food” points out Irmgard.


This article appeared open access in foods in January 2022 under


Full citation:

  • Jordan, I., Röhlig, A., Glas, M. G., Waswa, L. M., Mugisha, J., Krawinkel, M. B., & Nuppenau, E.-A. (2022). Dietary Diversity of Women across Agricultural Seasons in the Kapchorwa District, Uganda: Results from a Cohort Study. Foods, 11(3), 344.


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Learning from early societal responses to climate change can make current decisions and actions more resilient



ZEU researchers confirm that citizen science works for hydrological assessments in a low-income country


A recent Nature paper co-authored by ZEU member Dr. Elena Xoplaki identified examples of resilience in the past that can support efforts to adapt to current climate change.


The impacts of climate extremes have been becoming alarming the last couple decades with their increasing frequency, intensity and extent. Responses to these advert impacts of our modern, high-tech society, focus on adaptation and mitigation measures. Humans always tried to adapt to climatic conditions and their variability. Records of different strategies show the success stories of societies of the past to adapt to longer cold periods as in the 6th century AD Late Antique Little Ice Age or the Little Ice Age of the 13th to 19th centuries. The climate conditions in the past can be appreciated through climate reconstructions as those in the figure, accompanied with the uncertainty levels.  Elena explains that “Studying the connections between climate and society allows us to learn about the strategies and actions that earlier populations undertook to cope with climate change”. “Although, today, of course, different and much more ambitious adaptation measures are required to meet the challenges of the unprecedented global warming” warns Elena. The case studies show that populations were able to adapt along five pathways: “Populations seized new socio-economic opportunities, relied on robust energy systems, generated new resources through trade, responded effectively politically to extreme natural events, or migrated to new environments." says Elena. “And the success stories may support present-day efforts to adapt to the impacts of the unprecedented warming”, she concludes.

For example, in south-central Africa, where the palaeoclimate record is sparse, linguistic history suggests that Botatwe languages (a sub-branch of the Bantu language family) diverged into new languages during wetter conditions such as the innovation of terms for new fishing technologies and large-scale hunting techniques for waterbuck. This is confirmed in the archaeological record. “Such changes in the languages therefore indicate resilient responses to climate change in south-central Africa, in the absence of natural and the usual historical archives” explains Elena.

The study involves researchers from the disciplines of archaeology, geography, history and palaeoclimatology. In this regard, another finding from the study is that scientists working on the history of climate and society make more convincing connections between climate and human history when they work together in equal groups across disciplines, relying on the principle of consilience. "We've been working together in this framework in the social and natural sciences for a number of years now," says Elena. "This approach, as comprehensive as it is challenging, is producing very robust results."


This article appeared open access in Nature in March 2021 under


Full citation:

  • Dagomar Degroot, Kevin Anchukaitis, Martin Bauch, Jakob Burnham, Fred Carnegy, Jianxin Cui, Kathryn de Luna, Piotr Guzowski, George Hambrecht, Heli Huhtamaa, Adam Izdebski, Katrin Kleemann, Emma Moesswilde, Naresh Neupane, Timothy Newfield, Qing Pei, Elena Xoplaki, Natale Zappia: Towards a Rigorous Understanding of Societal Responses to Climate Change. Nature 591, pages 539–550 (2021).


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Dr. Suzanne Jacobs and Dr. Björn Weeser are at the forefront of using citizen science to measure hydrological processes in infrastructure disadvantaged and underdeveloped regions.


In their research they developed a globally unique operational water monitoring system based on citizen science, supported by open access technology and sophisticated hydrological modelling in the background for Kenya.

Basically, citizens visually measure water level using Levelling staffs that are placed on waterways and send an SMS text with this information. At the backend, a fully automatic hydrological and hydrochemical monitoring system operates (Jacobs et al., 2018). This system verifies the data collected by the citizens and based on data from both measuring systems, hydrological models are developed and tested (Weeser et al., 2019). They prove that excellent modelling results can also be achieved with the citizen-based data. Explanations for the people are done in English and Swahili and their enthusiasm and dedication make this project possible and successful. Thanks to their work and contribution to science, both researchers won the Ritter Foundation's Water Monitoring Prize in 2020.

Currently both researchers are in the field in Kenya examining how much data, in which temporal dimension and under which conditions (low water discharge, mean water, high water) are necessary to achieve conditions (low flow, mean flow, high flow) necessary to build reliable simulation models.




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SDGnexus Network researcher argues in favour of a more holistic sustainable development in Ecuador


ZEU visitor Dr. Irna Hofman of Oxford University traces Chinese influence in rural Tajikistan


Dr. Jorge Forero highlights the trade-offs emerging from an extractivist development of Ecuador’s highly biodiverse areas. The solution involves integrating all sustainability aspects of development in a coherent and holistic way.


The bulk of Ecuador´s oil reserves are located under the most biodiverse region. The country’s economic reliance on fossil fuels endangers the future of its biodiversity. The current sustainable development project for Ecuador (within the “National Plans for the Good Living “) proposes a transition towards a sustainable national economy, based on higher value-added sectors. The plan includes some general guidelines for an import substitution process, aiming at boosting Ecuador’s manufacturing sector. However, although it prioritizes economic activities based on the sustainable use of the country’s biodiversity, it also relies back on oil-related income for its financing. With the international fall of the oil prices in 2013, the government had to increasingly depend on debt, a non-sustainable strategy for the long run.

Jorge’s research characterizes the main features of this sustainable development project, describing its process of implementation with a focus on three key policy areas: public investment, industrial policies, and natural resources-related policies. He finds out that “the industrialization policies implemented were insufficient for generating significant changes in the relative weight of the maunfacturing sector both in imports and exports”. He argues that “the most significant shortcoming of the implementation of this development model was the boosting of the extractive sector”. Jorge Forero explains this is because “the expansion of the oil and mining frontiers was deployed over several key biodiversity areas, endangering the natural resources that would supposedly constitute the material base for the future economy of the country”.

His analysis suggests some general guidelines for Ecuador’s further sustainable development attempts. First, it highlights the need of finding alternative sources of state investment financing —like, for example, the implementation of a progressive tax reform. It also suggests a shift to a “strong sustainability” approach, that includes the identification of key natural resources, and the design of strategies for its conservation, as fundamental components of a truly “sustainable development model”.

Jorge is a SDGNexus postdoctoral researcher, based at the Simon Bolivar Andean University in Ecuador. He presented his latest research outcomes in the last Seminar Series of the SDGNN in 2021. Watch it again (here).



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Dr. Irna Hofman is visiting colleagues studying Central Asia at ZEU and within the International PhD Program for Agricultural Economics, Bioeconomy and Sustainable Food Systems (IPPAE) . Presenting insights from her recent ethnographic fieldwork in the ZEU Colloquium, she argues that Chinese actors penetrate and navigate rural Tajikistan in much more subtle ways than usually considered in the literature.


Irna is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Oxford, UK, and gained her PhD at Leiden University, the Netherlands in 2019. She is a legal and rural sociologist specializing in agrarian transformation in Central Asia, with interests and expertise in agrarian political economy, labour relations, food security, gender and environmental studies, and the presence of Chinese actors in Central Asia.

Presenting insights from her recent ethnographic fieldwork in the ZEU Colloquium, she argues that the diversity of Chinese actors and their focus in Tajikistan is large, and includes research projects, smallholder farming, and large-scale agricultural production and processing. The number of Chinese actors directly engaged in Tajikistan’s rural economy is low. However, Chinese traders and companies have indirectly penetrated the agricultural input market to a significant degree. They thus navigate rural Tajikistan in more subtle ways than often reported. While Chinese may have more privileged access to farmland than other stakeholders, they influence rural life in Tajikistan in various ways. Among them are employment and input access for farmers, which are valued by the rural population.

Irna is currently working on her book manuscript: “Seeds of friendship: Chinese cotton diplomacy in Tajikistan.” Her work has been published in various journals including in The Journal of Peasant StudiesLand Use Policy, the Eurasian Geography and Economics, and Problems of Post Communism.


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